Lobsters, pies, and poetry readings
Red Hook is probably most commonly known for being the South Brooklyn home to two very important destinations: Ikea and The Red Hook Lobster Pound.
Little did we know that a free Ikea ferry trip will ALSO deliver the most delicious key lime pie you've ever tasted, access to one of the most stunningly beautiful spaces (described to me by a local gallery owner as a "massive warehouse full of art and creatures"), a whiskey distillery, and some wonderfully homey neighborhood hangouts that are worth the trek alone. Hello Red Hook, indeed.
And yet, the beautiful interiors of these favorite finds make it easy to forget that just two years ago this industrial waterfront corner of Brooklyn was submerged under 10 feet of floor-sinking flood water. Red Hook was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, a fate that destroyed homes, crippled local businesses, and even - the horror - shuttered the iconic neighborhood bar. Post Sandy, many of those businesses have courageously re-built and re-started, open for business and prouder than ever to be part of the Red Hook community.
First up: exploring the surrounds
Though it has its fair share of trendy restaurants and locally produced liquor, Red Hook is certainly no Williamsburg. Get off the ferry and you're met with dusty warehouses, bus yards, and shipping containers. The streets are barren and quiet, the ground is littered with pages spread by the wind, and the buildings wear the scars of Sandy. This is a wonderful neighborhood for many reasons, but I wouldn't recommend wandering here alone at night, especially given the lack of direct subway connection. Plan your trip accordingly, and definitely be sure to check out some of the street art on Conover Street. A few favorite shots below, including the lovely old Red Hook trolley of bygone trolley fame!
Afternoon sweet tooth: Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie
I can't say I've ever been a pie person (or ever will be), but this is some damn good pie -- probably the best pie I've ever tasted. The creamiest of key lime fillings with a graham cracker crust and whipped cream. What could be better? Steve's is also home of the Swingle, a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. What?! See it to believe it - pic below.
Don't be deterred by the surrounds of Steve's little pie shack on the pier - the walk through industrial lumber yards and abandoned warehouses is well worth the prize at the end. And don't worry, Steve's got you covered with plenty of pie-related directions. Grab your pie and eat it at the park benches outside Steve's or head down to the water to enjoy it there (see below)!
Pie picnic and summer views: Louis Valentino Jr. Park
This beautiful little park is right on the waterfront and just a stone's throw away from Steve's Key Lime Pie. Head over for a pie picnic or just to enjoy the pier and beautiful views. Not to mention the lovely Red Hook building blocks scattered about the water's edge!
Tea time: Home / Made
This beautiful little cafe is the perfect oasis on Van Brunt Street and truly lives up to its name. The space is filled with couches so comfortable that an afternoon nap mid-cafe seems like an almost welcome activity. Add to that a slice of warm walnut bread with home made peach jam and a cup of tea and you've got yourself a perfect Sunday afternoon repose.
And, as you'll see often in Red Hook, all of the beautiful decorations ultimately cover up scars from Sandy: water lines that are just barely visible about 5 feet up the side of the wall. Paintings by a local artist cover the lines in most places, illustrating charming portraits of the cafe's waitstaff over the years. This is truly a place that has bounced back in a wonderful way.
It's 5:00 somewhere, perhaps even here: Whiskey tasting at Cacao Prieto Distillery
Housed in a beautifully restored old brick warehouse, this combination whiskey distillery / chocolatier seems like something right out of Napa Valley, California. Not only does it have that distinct laid back welcoming feel, but it also sources all of its organic cacao from family owned farms in the Dominican republic, making it one of the few truly vertically integrated operations out there.
Perhaps even more impressive, the founder is not only a cacao farmer, but also an inventor and aerospace engineer. And what else must an inventor / chocolatier / distiller do with his free time? Invent his own fanciful chocolate making machines, of course. Stop by to tour the distillery, pick up some treats, and check out those beautiful Willy Wonka style contraptions.
Second Sundays (and other days) at Pioneer Works art space
Turn off Van Brunt onto Pioneer Street and all you're likely see are rusted warehouses and probably some trash lying around. Don't be fooled though, because one of those lovely rusted doorways is the home of Pioneer Works, a beautiful art and innovation space that a gallery owner down the street described to me as a "warehouse full of art and creatures". Its cavernous multi-story ceilings are like nothing I've seen before, with gorgeous wood vaulting that really makes this feel more like a church than anything else.
Downstairs, a poetry reading with refreshments and ongoing mixed media exhibits. Upstairs, open art studio spaces filled with all sorts of magical things you'd expect to find in a cabinet of curiosities: figurines and old toy cars, movie props and lighting, and even a camera obscura (holy cow).
Whether you want to learn to etch tins with saltwater, make homebrew kimchi, or just admire some cool art in a beautiful space, Pioneer Works is a must visit. Check out Second Sundays throughout the summer from ~5-10 for live music, art, and backyard festivities.
End of day views: sunset at the piers behind Fairway
This pier has to be one of my favorite spots in the city. Watch the sunset with a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty and the beautiful hum of waves crashing against the rocks and the faint tolling of a buoy's bell. To access the pier, just head down the street behind the big Fairway grocery store and walk all the way to the end for the best view.
Last up: The Red Hook Lobster Pound and other awesome dinner spots (or lunch if you come early!)
There are so many good eats in Red Hook that I'm having trouble finding the time to visit them all. A select few highlights below to start your food adventure:
- The Red Hook Lobster Pound is a classic favorite, especially for lunch. Visit their understated storefront on Van Brunt and have a look inside those giant Jacuzzi tanks up front - lobsters galore and all the perfect ingredients for that famous lobster roll.
- For dinner, I really enjoyed a cozy neighborhood hangout down the street on Van Brunt called The Good Fork. Their most popular item is probably steak and eggs with kimchi rice, but the home made dumplings were also phenomenal.
- If you're a BBQ kind of person, Hometown Bar-B-Que is a new local spot that has some stellar brisket and a seriously competitive sauce collection. (pictured below)
- Brooklyn Crab is a fun spot with a great rooftop bar area and a backyard patio with all sorts of games. The crab and lobster rolls are decent, but you come here more for the ambiance. (pics below!)
- If they're still open this summer, I've heard the papusas from El Olomega at the Red Hook Ball Fields are pretty awesome too.
Mapping your trip
Red Hook is a small place, so you can't get too lost wandering around. The problem is getting there: the closest subway is Carroll Street (F, G) but its quite the trek. If you have time, and are going on a weekend, would recommend taking the free IKEA ferry from downtown. If you're just popping by for dinner in the evening, subway to Carroll and consider cabbing. Happy exploring!!